Standing before a sun-splashed Cinderellas castle, President Barack Obama on Thursday called for America to become the worlds top travel destination with a program that could significantly increase tourism to South Florida.
America is open for business, Obama announced at Walt Disney World near Orlando. We want to welcome you, he said.
The president also issued an executive order speeding visitor visas for Brazil and China and took additional steps that include promoting national parks and adding business executives to a tourism advisory board.
The goal is to significantly increase travel and tourism in the United States. The White House said that more than 1 million jobs could be created over the next decade, according to industry projections, if the U.S. increases its share of the international travel market.
The more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work. Its that simple, Obama said.
Tourism is a key component of Floridas economy, and tourism jobs have rebounded far more quickly in South Florida than jobs in most other industries.
The regions $13 billion hospitality industry employs about 182,000 people in South Florida, according to federal figures, amounting to about 10 percent of Browards workforce and 12 percent of Miami-Dades. That does not include employees of the retail industry, much of which depends on tourism dollars. In 2010, the hospitality industry accounted for about 5 percent of the regions $260 billion economy, though adding in foreign dollars in real estate, auto purchases, and shopping would make that amount bigger.
Nationally, the White House said the travel and tourism industry represent 2.7 percent of gross domestic product and 7.5 million jobs in 2010. But the U.S. share of spending by international travelers fell from 17 percent to 11 percent between 2000 and 2010, due to increased competition and changes in global development, as well as security measures imposed after Sept. 11, 2001, according to the White House.
Beyond the economic case, Obamas trip to Florida was the latest bid by the White House and his campaign to steal a share of the spotlight from Republicans vying for the GOP presidential nomination in this battleground state. The Florida Republican primary takes place on Jan. 31.
The presidents speech Thursday was far different from a 2009 appearance when he urged companies not to plan meetings in luxury resorts after an AIG subsidiary spent more than $440,000 on a meeting shortly after the firm was bailed out by taxpayers. Since then, industry representatives have met frequently with the White House to emphasize the importance of tourism to the economy, and officials from tourism organizations, retail-trade groups, and American Airlines applauded Thursdays announcement. Under nearly all previous administrations, tourism promotion has been left to regional agencies and the private sector.
In 2010, President Obama signed the Tourism Promotion Act, an industry-led imitative establishing a public-private partnership to promote the U.S. as a destination. Funding for a $200 million campaign slated for launch later this year comes from a $14 per person fee charged to visitors from visa-waiver countries.
His directive to increase visitor visa processing capacity by 40 percent in Brazil by the end of 2012 and cut the time period for visa interviews could have an immediate and significant impact on South Floridas economy, where Brazilians spent more than $1.5 billion in 2010 alone, said local tourism officials.